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How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb | GoodGirlGoneGreen.com

If you are like most people, you probably have a few of those spirally compact fluorescent lights throughout your home. I know I do.  When I first bought mine, I was concerned with the mercury inside them, what effects the mercury could have on me and if in fact, they could be recycled.

Luckily enough, I never had one break on me or burn out, so I never had to deal with the situation until recently when one broke and panic mode set in, seeing as I was slightly unprepared.

All I really knew was that CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which is toxic and really tough to get out of the environment. And, that CFL bulbs do not belong in your regular trash when they finally burn out or break. So, what to do with them?

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb

  1. If any children or pets are in the room where the light bulb broke; have them leave.
  2. It is best to air out the room, by opening a window or door leading to the outdoors for about 5-15 minutes.
  3. Use cardboard or stiff paper to collect the broken CFL or you can use sticky tap as well. Make sure all visible glass and powder is removed. Do not vacuum, this will just release more hazardous particles in the air.
  4. Place the broken light bulb and pieces into a glass jar with a metal lid. This will keep the mercury vapors from being released into the environment. If you do not have a glass jar, you can use multiple bags placed one inside the other to store the CFL until disposal.
  5. Wipe up the area with a wet cloth and soap and dispose of the cloth with the broken CFL. I never thought about doing this….oops.
  6. Make sure to wash your hands once you are done with the cleanup.
  7. Try to keep the broken CFL outside, and not in your home to decrease the chances of mercury being released into the air in your home.

Okay, now that the scene of the accident has been cleaned up, what to do with the broken CFL? I really had no idea. I was always under the assumption they could not be recycled until I googled it. Looks like there are many companies that recycle the light bulbs. That made me smile.

How to Dispose of a CFL Bulb

  1. Call your city to find out if they dispose of CFL’s. You won’t know unless you call. Most cities do offer hazardous waste disposal.
  2. Find local retailers that sell CFL’s and check if they dispose of them as well. I know Ikea has been accepting CFL’s since 2001 and Home Depot since 2008. However, with Home Depot they do not accept broken light bulbs and I am unsure for Ikea.
  3. Visit earth911.com. This is where I found a place to bring my lonely broken light bulb. I inquired with the company how they dispose of the CFL's and was offered to be taken on a tour of the plant with an explanation of what they do. I am excited to see how this all works behind the scenes.
  4. There are some companies that accept CFL’s by mail to later recycle. It can be expensive. Therefore, finding somewhere to recycle in your area is probably better option.

If you can’t find a place that accepts them quite yet, sending them to a landfill is not the answer. I know it may sound odd to some, but I would store the broken or burnt out light in a plastic bin until I found a resource.

I know the system isn't perfect and it would be great to be able to sit and read a book without thinking- is the mercury in the CFL bulb right now hurting me?

Have you made the switch to CFL's yet? Are you worried about the mercury in your light bulbs? Have you thought of LED bulbs?

Source: Environmental Protection Agency and Mother Nature Network

How to Clean Up a Broken CFL Bulb | GoodGirlGoneGreen.com

Reader Interactions


  1. Small Footprints says

    Excellent post … and thanks, so much, for doing all the research. I think a lot of people can relax a little about the mercury and know that if the bulb does break, it’s not a tragedy!

  2. Good Girl Gone Green says

    Thanks for the info. I read your comment on Little Green Blog the other day and looked at the link about the myths. I understand what you are staying. I am not an expert on the topic that is why I did not go into details about the different light bulbs and just wrote about how to dispose of them safely. Personally, I am still going to dispose of my CFLs safely and bring it to the proper recycling facility. Whether or not, there is mercury in the bulbs, I still want them to be recycled, and not put in the trash to sit in a landfill.

  3. Gaby @ Green Baby DS says

    Thanks for the info on how to clean up a broken CFL. I freak out every time Baby T goes near my floor lamp that has a CFL in it. I tell him he can’t touch that lamp because it’s dangerous. My poor child is going to grow up thinking lamps are going to attack him or something! It’s good to know that they don’t release as much mercury as the hype suggests, though… (although for the record, my pediatrician recommends never eating tuna if you’re a child or a pregnant or nursing mom… too much mercury.)

  4. Pamela says

    They say a day isn’t good until you’ve learned something. So my good has begun before 8:00 since I’ve learned so much on this post. I think I have a couple bulbs that I can change. Thank you for your tips — not just today but always.


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